It is axiomatic that the timeless message of Scripture had a special relationship to the challenges of the specific age in which God’s word first entered the world. For much of the Old Testament until the exile, the main religious “competitor” to Yahweh was the pagan deity Baal. Understanding something of Baal is useful background to both events and written material.
How ancient near-eastern cosmology can change the way we read and understand scripture
Have you ever wondered where all the water came from for Noah’s flood? Or how the tower of Babel’s builders expected to reach into heaven? Or how many rungs there would need to be on Jacob’s ladder?
In this infographic we see how the Bible describes humanity’s place in the universe, and how this unexpected revelation helps us to break free of modern preconceptions that limit our understanding of the Bible’s message. Rather than undermining our faith, this peculiar subject helps us develop a credible and robust approach to scripture.
We were reading Mark 5 recently and my curiosity was stirred by verse 41 where Mark records the healing of Jarius’ daughter. In raising her to life, Jesus:
“He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!”
This expression “Talitha cum” is Aramaic, it is transliterated into Greek.1 Ie the text is neither Greek or Hebrew, but Greek letters spelling out Aramaic words. This raises several questions. What language did Jesus speak? Why are these expressions in the gospels? What are the implications of these sayings? Continue reading “Jesus spoke Semitic languages not Greek”
To insult someone is to insult the God who created them
The section of the Sermon on the Mount subtitled “Anger” (ESV), “Concerning Anger” (NRSV), or “Murder” (NIV) in Matthew 5:21-27 is both familiar and strange. We understand what it means to insult someone and to be angry with someone, but we may not be sure what “raca” means, nor possibly would we understand why the punishment for doing so is to be “in danger of hell fire”. What is the difference between the “judgement” and the “council”? How does one pay a debt to the last penny when one is stuck in a debtors’ prison? Like much in the Sermon on the Mount, there’s some digging to do before the passage is as clear to us as it would have been to the Galilean fishermen who first hear it. Continue reading “Murder, Anger, and Reconciliation”
We always try to use the best tools for our regular day work, we should do the same in our Bible study
Today we have a wealth of modern lexical tools available to us. Yet so many people ignore all this, and use Gesenius, or Strong’s, or Young’s, or Vine’s, tools which are massively out of date, sometimes wildly inaccurate, and theologically biased.
A small example demonstrating the interaction of culture and text
Historical and cultural context matter in matters both big and small when it comes to reading and understanding the bible.
As the bible student Alan Hayward observed “Bible verses only make sense if you study them in their context, that is, their setting. You need to read the verses on either side of the verse in question. As I have pointed out on several occasions, you also need to make allowance for Hebrew idiom.”1Continue reading “Culture and the Widow of Zaraphath”
…he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross
Crucifixion was considered worse than decapitation, being killed by wild animals, or being burnt alive.1 It was considered “a terrible calamity”2, it “was a punishment in which the caprice and sadism of the executioners were given full rein;”3 it was the supreme Roman punishment. Continue reading “The Shame of the Cross”
I never read THAT before – and I know what you said is wrong.
Sometimes you just know what the bible says – except that you don’t. Case in point, someone asked me why you could have a Passover Goat. Of course I knew this was not possible, but they insisted their version said it was ok. I checked. Continue reading “Passover goats”
Taking the time to carefully understand the Biblical culture of the passage at hand
“We can easily forget that Scripture is a foreign land and that reading the Bible is a crosscultural experience. To open the Word of God is to step into a strange world where things are very unlike our own. Most of us don’t speak the languages.We don’t know the geography or the customs or what behaviours are considered rude or polite. And yet we hardly notice… we tend to read Scripture in our own ‘when’ and ‘where’, in a way that makes sense on our terms.” 1
Those who have had the opportunity to travel overseas understand the need to learn about local culture in the places they are going to visit. It could be dangerous not to! You might behave quite differently in Dubai compared to how you would in London or New York. Yet we can be so familiar with the Bible that we forget that opening its pages is an experience of different languages and cultures to our own. Continue reading “Bridging the Gap – Culture and Language”
To really understand our Bible, we must find ways to bridge the gap between its time and place, and our time and place.
We are separated from the people who wrote and received books of the Bible by between 2000 and 5000 years. That’s a long time! We look at black and white pictures of our grandparents or great-grandparents and wonder about how different their world was. They lived only a hundred or so years ago, the Bible is from 2000 years ago.